Editorial: How You Can Prepare for the (Eventual) Closing of Second Life

Someday, it will happen. Not if, when.

Now, before you all get your torches and pitchforks and tar and feathers out, and angrily run me out of town, I do want to reassure you: Second Life is still going to be around for many, many years. It still reliably generates millions of dollars of profit every year for Linden Lab, it still generates a fair income for a great many content creators, and it still has—at the ripe old age of 16—approximately half a million regular monthly users. Linden Lab would be absolutely crazy to shut down this cash cow, especially as their latest social VR platform, Sansar, is still struggling to attract users.

However.

Based on what happened in 2019 with High Fidelity, and based on the recent layoffs of much of the team building Sansar at Linden Lab, it is important for people to realize that these platforms are not charities run for the benefit of their users. These are private companies that are doing the best they can to provide value and generate income for their staff, and they are accountable to management, boards of directors, and (in some cases) shareholders and venture capitalists—not to us.

Do not for one second assume that Second Life will be around forever. After observing how Linden Lab is handling the Good Ship Sansar, I am beginning to suspect that when they do decide to shut Second Life down, it will be sudden, unexpected, and brutal.

So how do you prepare for the inevitable? How do you deal with the loss of a beloved virtual world, which will happen someday in the future?

Well, here’s a few tips to get you started.

First, do a little personal research on the process of grieving. Whether you like to admit it or not, you will probably go through all of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

In other words, it is normal to feel bad after any loss, even a loss that you might not see as very significant at the time. Depending on how you use Second Life (ranging from an idle pastime to an essential source of income), your reactions to the eventual shuttering of SL are likely to vary. You may go through the steps of grief out of order, plunging directly into depression rather than denial (I myself often do this).

Second, remember this harsh truth: these are businesses, not utilities, charities or non-profits. As I mentioned up top, in business anything can and does happen, and it often happens unexpectedly. Sometimes companies are mismanaged into the ground. Sometimes companies have to do things that you as a user of their products might not like.

For example, it is within the realm of possibility that a behemoth company like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, or Microsoft buys out Linden Lab and shuts down Second Life, perhaps even to force them to migrate to one of their platforms. (We already saw this happen when Yahoo! bought up the short-lived virtual world Cloud Party, just to grab the programming talent, and then they shut that world down completely. They did hold a lovely farewell, though.)

One of the reasons I got so upset about Sansar is because I got emotionally attached to the platform, associating it with my most recent recovery from serious clinical depression. Unfortunately, my soft spot for Sansar became a major blind spot, and I landed up getting triggered and getting extremely upset and angry when unfortunate things like the layoffs occurred, even though they did not affect me personally.

So it’s probably best to try and reframe your perspective on Second Life. I admit that many people feel about Second Life the way that I felt about Sansar. Hell, even I sometimes feel that way about SL! But after I processed the shock of the sudden Sansar staff layoffs, I do consider myself more emotionally prepared for when the inevitable does happen, and Second Life does shut down. It’s a matter of when, not if.

I look at SL as a hobby, a way to pleasurably pass the time that satisfies my creative and social needs, and if it all goes away tomorrow, well, I had a wonderful time, I got to know some great people, and I will have many happy memories of countless hours of (mis)adventure. (And one hell of a lot of avatar makeovers!)

Third, it’s probably time to gently begin exploring other options. When Linden Lab shuts down Second Life, there will be a massive diaspora, who will likely land up in various successor social VR platforms and virtual worlds. However, the whole process will go a lot smoother if you do not put all your eggs in one basket.

Now would be a good time to see what Sinespace has to offer, for instance. Or perhaps you decide that Sansar is for you, after all. Or any one of the platforms in this spreadsheet I prepared last November (which I will try to keep up-to-date as the market changes and evolves). Who knows? Maybe you will be attracted to the upcoming Facebook Horizon (even if you can’t be whoever you want).

So get out there are explore alternative social VR/virtual worlds. In almost all cases, it costs you nothing to get started. And you might be pleasantly surprised to find a place you quite like, and want to spend a bit of time in. Having options is usually a good thing—and having options is a necessity if you are a content creator. Many designers and creators already have their brand in several different virtual worlds, and they will have some sort of cushion when Second Life fails.

I hope that you find what I have written here to be helpful, and not see it as an attack on Second Life or Linden Lab. It’s not. But now might be a good time to start preparing for the eventual, inevitable end of SL.

Because someday, probably when you least expect it, it will happen.

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A Special Thank You to My Patreon Supporters—And How You Can Become One (Or Just Buy Me a Coffee!)

You can show your support by something as simple as buying me a coffee!
(Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash)

On November 22nd, 2018, emulating a couple of bloggers whom I admired, I set up a Patreon page to support my work on this blog and on the Metaverse Newscast show on YouTube.

Well, today I just checked my Patreon page and I was happy to discover that I have reached my first Patreon goal: $30 per month, which almost exactly meets my blog hosting costs on WordPress!

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank all of my Patreon supporters, both past and present, both those named on my Patreon patrons list and those who wish to remain anonymous. Your support means the world to me, and it is very much appreciated!

I know that I need to rack my brains to come up with even more perks and benefits for my wonderful Patreon supporters—a new project for a new decade! And I will always welcome anybody who wants to support my work via Patreon.

A tech blogger whom I recently have started following, Lily Snyder, has set up something I had not seen before. At the end of her blogposts (like this one, which mentions one of my recent editorials), she mentions that the reader can buy her a coffee!

You can buy Lily Snyder a coffee!

How it works is, you can set it up to use either PayPal, Stripe, or both, to allow users to make a single, one-time donation of $3.00—just enough to cover the cost of a coffee! I think this is a great idea, so I went and set one up for myself (although you can certainly make a one-time donation through my Patreon page, if you wish). Coffee is always greatly appreciated!

Between my Patreon supporters, my advertising, and becoming a paid embedded reporter for Sinespace, 2020 is shaping up nicely!

Thanks again for all your support—and all the coffee!

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

Editorial: Missing

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

I don’t know what is wrong with me today. I am back at my paying job after a two-week Christmas vacation, and believe me, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy over the next few weeks! Lots of requests from professors for student training on how to use my university’s library system efficiently and effectively. Lots of committees to sit on. Lots of stuff to do. I feel needed, and that feels good.

And I am starting off 2020 where I am actually getting paid to do what I love, which is write about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse (which reminds me, I need to email an invoice over to Sinespace today). My boss at work was tickled pink by my recent mention in Patty Marx’s New Yorker article about virtual reality. And to top it all off, I even got an award for my blogging from the Virtual Existence Society! I am certainly getting lots of external validation (and personal satisfaction) from what I do in my off-hours.

So I should be happy, right? Right?

So, why do I feel like something is missing?

And no, it’s not Sansar that is missing from my life. It’s truly a blessed relief to take a break from the bickering, politics and drama over there. I wish Linden Lab staff and all the Sansar users my very heartfelt wishes for the best to happen in 2020, and I vow that I will be back—someday. But not right now. I’m just so burned out on Sansar, and it’s going to take some time and space to heal before I come back. And it was a valuable lesson learned: not to let myself get so emotionally invested in any single platform in the first place. My infatuation, my honeymoon period, with Sansar is well and truly over.

Perhaps that’s what is missing from my life: a sense of optimism. The world suddenly seems to be a much more precarious place at the start of 2020, with an American president using Twitter to issue threats to bomb an enemy’s cultural sites (a war crime), and Australia ablaze due to continued inaction on climate change and global warming by global politicians. It all just seems so hopeless, so dire.

So, what do you do when what you’re missing is a sense of hope about the future, a sense of optimism? I already know that I suffer from clinical depression, a battle which I do not shy away from sharing here on this blog. But what if there’s actually good reason to feel depressed about society and the world?

I don’t have any easy answers, for myself or for anyone else. But I do think that taking the initiative to make small, practical improvements in your life can make a difference.

For example, this year I have made a pact with a coworker to go for regular cardiovascular exercise a few times a week: walking the length and width of the university’s extensive tunnel system connecting the various buildings on campus, during what can be a long, bitterly cold Canadian prairie winter. (We like to joke that there are still stoned-out students from the 1960s wandering around lost in the tunnels!)

And I can haul my raggedy ass back to Weight Watchers tomorrow, to reset myself on the path toward making healthier, more informed food choices.

Sometimes all it takes is small steps, opportunities to reassert some small portion of personal control over situations that feel hopeless in our lives, that make all the difference. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a start. Sometimes it takes a collection of a lot of little things, to tip the balance in our favour, and rediscover what’s missing in our lives.

Editorial: Will Facebook Horizon Succeed If You Can’t Be Anybody But Yourself? (What Fourteen Years of Second Life Has Taught Me)

If anybody had told me, at the start of my 14-year Second Life journey, that my main avatar (the one I use the most) would be a woman, I would have laughed my damn head off. It would have never even occurred to me that I could be a woman. When I started off, I created an avatar that, more or less, looked like me, dressed like me…was me. The first two alts I created were also male (here’s an old picture of the three of them, way back in 2007, gathered around a cozy pixel campfire):

My first three SL avatars: Heath Homewood, Morden Winkler, and Notecard Writer

And yet, almost fourteen years later, here I am, Vanity Fair, wearing a slinky new ombre dress I picked up at ViSion with the free L$300 gift card available from their booth at the seasonal Shop and Hop (which ends tomorrow, by the way, so hurry down to pick up the fabulous freebies!), elegantly sipping coffee from my limited-edition Lab Gab mug (thanks, Xiola and Strawberry!) and sedately listening to the tunes at the new, upstart Frank’s Jazz Club…and dressed to kill, honey! 😉

Which got me to thinking.

Second Life has been an unparalleled opportunity for literally hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people over the past 16 years, to step outside their own skins and become somebody else for a day, a week, a month, a year…or forever.

At various times in the past, I have been (and sometimes still am):

  • a medieval lute and harp player, serenading fantasy roleplayers in drafty stone castles and at jousting tournaments
  • an urban angel with a neon halo, dressed in black from head to toe, patroling the mean streets
  • a six-year-old girl with a teddy bear, who skips everywhere she goes
  • a very prim and proper 1950s housewife (complete with pearls!)
  • a Chinese emperor—and a Chinese empress!
  • Britney Spears (“It’s Britney, bitch”)
  • Cher, surrounded by an army of animated cockroaches, belting out “If I could turn back tiiime…If I could find a waaay…” on an endless loop, as she wanders various post-apocalyptic worlds in Second Life! (Uhhhm, that would be Cher singing, not the cockroaches—although that would be pretty funny, too!)
  • a satyr
  • a stripper for cash tips (link is safe for work)
  • a fat cop who likes to hang out at donut stops
  • a plus-size female model
  • Queen Elizabeth I in full regalia
  • Elvis Presley (complete with white sequin jumpsuit, microphone and wearable spotlights!)
  • a male moon fairy—and a female fairy godmother!
  • a flaming phoenix
  • a gypsy fortune teller (complete with crystal ball)
  • a very old man in a Hugh-Hefneresque smoking jacket, puffing away contentedly on his pipe
  • a 1960s hippie chick
  • Ennis Del Mar (and Jack Twist!) from Brokeback Mountain
  • a male Na’vi warrior from Avatar
  • a Victorian parlourmaid (whom I like to stick in rather unexpected places like clubs and stores, where she busily dusts and vacuums)
  • a Johnny-Depp-lookalike pirate with a parrot on his shoulder
  • a Japanese geisha
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • a vampire
  • Mary Poppins (complete with levitating umbrella and carpetbag, she once memorably dive-bombed an S&M orgy in Second Life while staying completely in character!)
  • a Bollywood movie star
  • Michael Jackson
  • a goth girl who only wears three colours: black, white, and red
  • a mermaid
  • Paris Hilton (“the Paris Hilton of Second Life” from that long-ago CSI:NY episode)
  • an Afro-Canadian woman
  • an Indigenous/First Nations Canadian woman
  • a white-haired old woman for Caledon/steampunk/Victorian roleplay
  • Santa Claus
  • a Bavarian German man in lederhosen with a beer stein
  • a Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter wizard
  • a drag queen
  • a circus clown
  • a timberwolf
  • a large, fire-breathing dragon
  • a court jester
  • a ball-joined china doll
  • a stern Roman Catholic sister armed with a ruler to inflict God’s punishment on sinners! And sometimes, just to get a laugh, I have her being followed around by a flock of penguins…
  • and the list goes on, and on, and on…

And it makes me wonder: just how successful will the new Facebook Horizon be, if they insist that you be, essentially, your own rather boring self, linked to your personal Facebook account, and unable to throw on the guise of somebody else?

The very thought would horrify most Second Life users, who are so used to being somebody else, and hiding behind an avatar name, and often roleplaying somebody (or something) completely different from their real lives. And the same would apply to many of the newer social VR platforms, like VRChat, where everybody you meet seems to want to be an anime girl or a Disney character on the lam from their corporate lawyers.

Fourteen years of Second Life has taught me that the ability to be somebody else—walk around in someone else’s skin—can be an insightful, instructive, transformative, and even delightful experience. And I rather doubt that Facebook Horizon is going to be able to replace that, at least to start. (I mean, there’s no lower half of your body on the Horizon avatars! Think of the loss of shoe-shopping opportunities alone… 😉 )

If Facebook Horizon won’t let you be somebody else, will it still have the same appeal? Will it attract a different audience? These are good questions to ponder as we watch Facebook roll out Horizon this year.

Facebook Horizon: Friendly, yes…but what if you can’t be a fire-breathing dragon?